2012 London Olympics Men’s Basketball Quarterfinals Wrap-up
- Updated: August 8, 2012
By: Kels Dayton
Inept referees!! Hairy foreign dudes!! Games at 9 am!!! It’s the Olympic Men’s Basketball Knockout Round!!!!
GAME ONE: Russia 83, Lithuania 74
If you love basketball, the Olympic quarterfinals are for you. It’s August Madness; waking up at nine eastern and having an old-school Baltic rivalry among four games staring you in the face.
The Russia-Lithuania game felt like a 1-seed/8-seed matchup in a small conference tournament. The Lithuanians hung in valiantly (with their season on the line), but ultimately didn’t have enough firepower to match the Russians’ Andrei Kirilenko and Timofey Mozgov.
It was a rugged, physical game, but Russia escaped 83-74, to advance to the Olympic semifinals. The Russians (5-1, #1 Group B) were dismissed as medal contenders coming into the Games, but now find themselves just one win away from a trip to the Gold Medal Game. Russia has not medaled in basketball since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
“This was a big step for our country, for our basketball,” said Sergey Mona.
Russia won Group B by defeating Brazil, Spain, Great Britain and China, twice winning in dramatic fashion. Vitaliy Fridzon hit a falling-down three-pointer to help the Russians take out Brazil. Russia dominated the heavily-favored Spanish after falling behind 20-2. The two teams will now meet for a likely shot at the U.S. and gold.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Timofey Mozgov was very un-Nugget-like, making it understandable that NBA teams would draft him. Mozgov scored 17 points and grabbed 4 rebounds, and played tough defense inside. Andrei Kirilenko was also terrific, scoring a game-high 19 points.
STAT LINE OF THE GAME: Russia shot 51% from two-point range and held the Lithuanians to just 35%. Lithuania also turned the ball over 14 times, twice down the stretch.
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: Sergey Mona hit the second of two huge threes in the fourth quarter and turned a 59-55 game into a 64-55 advantage for Russia. The Lithuanians fought back and drew to within five at 77-72, but could not overcome a barrage of threes and timely baskets for the Russians, who kept them at arms’ length throughout the second half. Turnovers late in the game also killed Lithuania, especially a throw-away by Darius Songalia when Lietuva had the ball down by just five with a minute and a half to go.
STRANGEST FACT: Russian head coach David Blass SPEAKS ENGLISH in the huddle. I have no idea why this is, it’s not like they have any Becky Hammons (she plays on the Russian women’s team) who were born in Fort Lauderdale and have never been to Russia. Blass even screams at the refs in English, so go figure. If there’s any more obvious evidence that the U.S. wiped the floor with the U.S.S.R. in the Cold War, I haven’t never seen it. Could anyone who was alive in the 1970s ever have imagined this? Blass is a nut; he’s constantly pacing and screaming and worrying and running up and down the sideline. He strolled into the postgame handshake with a nosebleed. Not even Calhoun is that nuts.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR TEAM USA: It would have been nice to see the upset, although Lithuania has been a thorn in the Americans’ side for years. There’s no doubt that Russia is the more talented team, with plenty of NBA players and a rejuvinated Mozgov, who dominated the Lithuanians inside, even throwing down a thunderous dunk off of a pick-and-roll midway through the third quarter. Russia also has plenty of size and plays terrific defense, clogging the paint and pressuring ballhandlers. Lithuania was held to 37 percent shooting in the game.
GAME TWO: Spain 66, France 59
This game was a major disappointment, as France crapped le lit in the fourth quarter, missing its last eleven shots. The French seemed lackadaisical down the stretch, almost failing to get the ball inbounds on a key possession down by three with under two minutes to play and settling for contested jump shots.
France scored just six points in the fourth quarter.
Making matters worse is the fact that Nicholas Batum literally punched Juan Carlos-Navarro in the man area as time was running out, apparently in retaliation for the Spanish flopping.
France had led much of the way, building an early 22-14 lead. The game remained close and low-scoring throughout, but Spain took control with an 8-0 run late in the fourth quarter. Marc Gasol scored 14 points, his brother Pau came up 10 and with two huge blocks, and the Spanish dominated down the stretch.
Trailing 57-54 with 6:51 to go, Spain didn’t allow another French basket until Mickael Gellabale’s meaningless jumper with 5.5 seconds remaining.
Juan Carlos Navarro, the victim of Batum’s end-game rage, scored 12 points for the Spanish.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Marc Gasol, Spain. Gasol stepped up big in the second half, coming up with 14 points and dominating in the fourth quarter.
For Scola, one of five leftovers from the beloved ’04 team — known fondly as “The Golden Generation” back home — this is one last run at Olympic glory.
United States 119, Australia 86
He looked old, tired, and ready for summer vacation. There were times during these 2012 Olympic Games when Kobe Bryant probably would have rather been on the beach, re-charging, instead of bowling over waiting defenders and getting called for the charge.
Bryant was slumping like we aren’t used to seeing him slump–bricking jumpers and looking like an old man with the chills, covered in warmups at the end of the bench.
Kobe shot just 1 for 7 against Lithuania (6 points) and 3-for-10 against Argentina (11 points). At one point, Kobe had missed 19 of 23 shots.
In the first half of the United States’ win-or-go-home quarterfinal game against Australia, Bryant went 0-for-3 from the floor and picked up two fouls. He even fouled up a three-on-two fast break in which he, LeBron and Durant were the three, running into an Australian defender and being called for the charge.
It appeared as though these weren’t going to be his Olympics, much in the way the ’92 Games weren’t the greatest exhibition of Larry Bird’s talents. (Bird was hobbled by a bad back and retired soon after).
But then, in a flash, in one of those patented Team USA outbursts, Kobe reminded us all why he’s Kobe.
With the U.S. leading 67-58, midway through the third quarter, Chris Paul dashed into the paint and found Bryant for a wide-open three. He drilled it. Seconds later, Bryant jumped in front of a David Barlow pass, then chased it into the corner, stopped, pulled up, and drained another triple.
Then, midway through the fourth with the U.S. up 93-78, LeBron James ripped down a rebound from under the rim and raced up-court like a rabid thoroughbred. He found Bryant in the corner, who pump-faked, sent Patrick Mills flying through the air, and knocked down another one.
On the next possession, Bryant jab-stepped and dropped another three right in Joe Ingles’ face.
On the next possession, LeBron saved an errant Kevin Love outlet pass, feeding the ball right into Kobe’s hands and setting him up for another easy, pull-up triple.
On the next possession, LeBron stole the ball from poor Joe Ingles, looked up and zipped an outlet pass right to (who else) Kobe, who pulled up again, and found nylon again.
When it was finally over, Bryant had nailed six straight three-pointers, turning a closer-than-expected game into a United States whitewash. Team USA won, 119-86. Bryant finished with 20 points.
“Somebody made him mad. I could see it in his eyes,” said Kevin Durant. “I kind of wanted him to turn it on and he did.”
Carmelo Anthony said that it was he who got Kobe going. “I kind of knew what button to push with him,” Anthony said. “I was talking to him at halftime and in the third quarter and I guess I pushed the button,” he said.
Kobe told NBC’s Craig Sager after the game that he used halftime to make himself angry. He wouldn’t say what it was, but said he was “livid” about the semifinal matchup with Argentina on Friday.
Maybe it’s just because old men are cranky. Then again, maybe, just maybe, Kobe is back.